A friend of mine was practicing zazen for many years. They started to get discourage with their practice and started to explore transcendental mediation. Now, they claim their progress with TM is far better in a matter of weeks when compared to zazen. I was wondering if there is an equivalent to TM in any of the Buddhist traditions? If so, what are the basics and framework of the parallel type of meditation?
What is TM (Transcendental Meditation)
Being a Buddhist, I only have a cursory familiarity with TM, but here it is. A TM practitioner is instructed to sit regularly, at least 15 minutes every morning, or more. Meditation is presented as joyful, easy, resting activity that does not require much effort. Instead of suppressing thoughts or holding uninterrupted attention on breath etc., the practitioner is instructed to let their mind expand in its natural state. This is a state of open unfettered unperplexed awareness, like your mind on a day when you have enough time that you don't have to rush and can instead allow yourself to "gather your thoughts". As the mind expands, all kinds of memories and thoughts start bubbling up into scope. At this point the meditator is instructed to use their personal mantra, especially selected to match their personal predispositions (this part sounds like upaya to me). After reciting the mantra several times until the thoughts calm down, the TM meditator can stop using the mantra, and let their mind expand naturally. This combination of letting the mind expand while not letting it wander is said to be the core principle of TM. Two other unique elements are the joyful & resting mood that the TM meditator learns to associate with meditation, and the use of mantra.
What Buddhist meditation is similar to TM
I'm not aware of any Buddhist meditation that would combine the same exact elements in the same way as TM. However, all elements of TM are found in Buddhist meditation techniques:
- The joyful and resting mood is like in satipatthana, like in 2nd jhana.
- Letting the mind expand in its natural state is like zazen, like Mahamudra meditation.
- Coming back when thoughts arise is like the labeling ("thoughts!") technique in beginner's samatha meditation.
- Using mantra is like in mantra meditation.
So to me, TM sounds like a peculiar combination of techniques usually associated with beginner's meditation (using the mantra, coming back from thoughts), with intermediate-level technique of generating the joyful mood, plus a technique that firmly belongs at advanced meditation levels -- letting the mind expand in its natural state.
TM is mantra meditation. You're given an "unique" mantra in TM. Of course there's nothing unique about it. They use tables like this one to "calculate" your unique mantra.
Something comparable is therefore to be found in Vajrayana Buddhism (Tibetan or Shingon or others), arguably also Nichiren (their mantra "Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo").
The most popular mantra in Buddhism is probably Om mani padme hum
Vajrayana is also called Mantrayana.
Meditation techniques are, ultimately, all variations on one theme, liberation: see the films "Spiritual Liberation" and "With One Voice", which are documentaries of the practice of meditation in most of the world's religions, including Christianity, Hinduism, Sufism, Buddhism, Taoism, etc. (available for free on GaiamTV here and here, and for rent on Amazon Instant Videos, or any video rental or sales service). Both movies concentrate on the similarities of the world's meditative practices.
TM is very similar (I think) to Sri Ramana Maharshi's "Who Am I?" meditation, which is very similar to the Mahamudra meditation of Tibetan Buddhism. Lama Yeshe, founder of the FPMT, also was a proponent of the subject, 'you', being the object of meditation. They all take the mind (or the "I" thought in the mind) as the object of meditation. Progress, meaning advancement to where one understands why one is practicing and can see the progress and its positive results, is quite quick, depending on the time and effort spent on the practice.
I practice the Mahamudra practice as taught by the Drikung Kagyu school, a "soup to nuts" approach. My favorite two books on the subject are "Mahamudra, The Moonlight, The Quintessence of Mind and Meditation", by Dakpo Tashi Namgyal, and "The Gelukpa/Kagya Tradition of Mahamudra", by HH the Dalai Lama. The first is more of a handbook, while the second is more of a scholarly treatment. A great online guide is "A Meditation Guide For Mahamudra"
Patanjali's Yoga Sutras states in the beginning that Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of mind matter. This "Yoga" is when there is an absence of thoughts yet the person is not asleep. The awareness has gone beyond the intellect. This state cannot be attained directly by mental effort for the very effort of the intellect keeps one tied to the mind. However certain mental efforts such as koan contemplation or mindfulness on the body can through a kind of distracting fatigue eventually "trick" the mind into collapsing for a moment or a while and the cessation of the fluctuations of mind matter can occur. Transcendental Meditation is a japa type meditation where a meaningless mantra is repeated over and over again. When the meditator realizes that they have once again become engaged in a thought or chain of thoughts and have stopped repeating the mantra they then simply return to repeating the mantra again. The mantra having no ideological or emotional connections acts as a simple sound that the the ever busy mind follows like a charm to simpler and simpler levels of thinking until finally there is only the sound of the mantra reverberating in the mind leading to an effortless state where the mantra may die away and the mind settles upon nothing. No fluctuations of mind matter, no mind. The awareness has transcended the mind and abides in its own nature...awareness without thoughts.
This state may last for 5, 10, 15 minutes or maybe it is for just a mere moment and then the mind reengages and thoughts are once again the experience of awareness. Done on a regular basis this acts as an almost effortless culturing of the "Self" to see it's true nature as pure awareness beyond the level of the intellect and not identify as the thoughts and ideas we entertain in our minds.
It's consistently pleasant, easy and a wonderful release of stress that does not require starring at a wall for an hour. I do believe that vipassana, and many other approaches to meditation do lead ultimately to a transcendental state of awareness but in my opinion none get there as easily or consistently as TM. I also think it would be a perfect compliment to all the active inner work that one engages in during a serious Buddhist practice.